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How Does Intoxication Affect the Cardiovascular System?

Every time someone takes in an intoxicating substance, the body is affected adversely. The liver is affected primarily because it works as a detoxification system for the body, and the lungs and stomach are damaged if they’re the main recipients of the substance itself. But there’s one organ that’s particularly affected by substances but isn’t often discussed: the heart.

Heart disease can be an active symptom of addiction, especially with alcohol. While many people think that alcohol is one of the more “harmless” addictive substances, it’s incredibly unhealthy for the heart.

At Santa Barbara Recovery in Southern California, for people struggling with alcohol addiction, we provide them with access to quality addiction treatment, and a safe environment with the effective tools and resources to facilitate successful recovery outcomes.

How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

The question of whether moderate drinking is beneficial for the heart remains a topic of debate. Nevertheless, for the majority of individuals, it seems that moderate drinking does not pose harm to the heart. It is important to emphasize the term “moderate” in this context. Moderate drinking is defined as consuming an average of one drink per day for women and one or two drinks for men.

It is worth noting that a drink may be smaller than anticipated, such as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits. However, certain individuals with specific heart rhythm abnormalities or heart failure must abstain from alcohol altogether, even in moderation.

Does Excessive Drinking Contribute to Heart Disease?

Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol is associated with various negative health outcomes, such as heart conditions. It can result in elevated blood pressure, heart failure, or even stroke. Additionally, excessive drinking can contribute to the development of cardiomyopathy, a disorder that affects the heart muscle. Furthermore, alcohol consumption can contribute to obesity and a wide range of associated health issues. Alcohol is a significant source of extra calories and can lead to long-term weight gain, which can be detrimental to one’s well-being. It is important to be mindful of the potential health risks and make responsible choices when it comes to alcohol consumption.

How Does Alcohol Affect The Heart and Cardiovascular System?

how does intoxication affect the cardiovascular system

Growing evidence consistently demonstrates that consuming any amount of alcohol is detrimental to heart health. Even the consumption of small quantities of alcohol can elevate the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which encompass conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels.

Alcohol serves as a significant contributing factor to the development of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This condition arises when blood is pumped through the arteries or blood vessels with greater force than normal. Hypertension stands as the primary cause of cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke.

Among alcohol’s adverse effects on the heart are natural swelling of the heart’s walls, which can lead to overall pressure and decreased activity within the heart. Of course, this highly depends on what stage of alcoholism the person has reached when they start to experience adverse health effects.

The cardiovascular system at large encompasses the heart, lungs, and veins that circulate the blood throughout the body. It also involves circulating oxygen throughout the body, as well as metabolic waste to the kidneys and liver. It’s what transports the important nutrients throughout the body so that you can take advantage of everything you eat throughout the day.

How Does Alcohol Cause High Blood Pressure?

Because alcohol is a depressant, it’s frequently thought of as a calming substance that can help calm a person down. But this isn’t at all true to how alcohol works within the body as a substance, where it can put undue stress on a person’s organs in ways that aren’t always clear.

Alcohol’s Impact on Hypertension

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, has a direct connection with chronic use of alcohol. Mild or moderate use of alcohol may not affect blood pressure, but this is highly dependent on the person. Binge drinking in particular can severely impact hypertension, raising the rates beyond those caused as a result of heavy drinking.

  • The consumption of alcohol triggers the release of hormones that cause the arteries to constrict and tighten.
  • The alteration in blood vessel dynamics affects the force exerted during the circulation of blood throughout the body.
  • Alcohol impacts the nervous system, which encompasses the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. This system plays a crucial role in regulating blood pressure.
  • Alcohol affects the receptors located in the blood vessels near the heart, which are responsible for maintaining blood pressure within a healthy range.
  • Additionally, alcohol consumption leads to an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol, which can elevate heart rate and blood pressure. Regular alcohol consumption often results in weight gain, which is a significant risk factor for the development of high blood pressure.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease

Alcohol’s impact on the heart can be attributed to various factors, including behavioral, genetic, and biological influences. However, research suggests that the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption play the most significant role.

There are many ways that alcohol can affect the human body. It can lead to mental effects, weight gain, lack of coordination, and many other unpleasant side effects. However, the ways it affects the cardiovascular system are subtle and unintuitive. But this substance can have a much more widespread effect than many people suspect.

For instance, consuming a large amount of alcohol (4 or more standard drinks per day) or engaging in binge drinking (defined as 5 standard drinks on a single occasion for men and more than 4 standard drinks for women) have been linked to harmful effects. Recent research conducted in 2022 further emphasizes that no level of alcohol intake is entirely safe for the cardiovascular system. Nevertheless, the extent to which these effects manifest depends on the amount consumed.

Light alcohol use (0-8.4 drinks per week) is associated with a slightly elevated risk to the cardiovascular system, whereas heavier consumption increases the magnitude of this risk. It is worth noting that individuals in the light drinking group also tended to have healthier overall lifestyle habits compared to those who consumed alcohol more heavily.

Alcohol’s Link to Coronary Artery Disease, Heart Attack, and Stroke

man talking to therapist during individual therapyMost studies have indicated a correlation between alcohol consumption and the emergence of cardiovascular issues, even though the impact of alcohol and its consequences can differ among individuals.

  • Blood pressure changes and hypertension
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Arrhythmias.
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

As a result of alcohol, a person can largely increase their risk of certain heart diseases such as:

  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat): Alcohol drastically raises the chances of developing this condition, especially binge drinking and chronic alcohol consumption. Some people experience irregular heartbeat even after just a weekend of heavy drinking, also known as “holiday heart syndrome.”
  • Heart attack: A heart attack is when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood. This can be because of high exertion, stress, and other lifestyle factors. But alcohol use is also highly associated with heart attacks, with about 3 out of 20 heart attacks being caused directly by alcohol consumption.
  • Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Alcohol causes the walls of the heart to expand, which can lead to shortness of breath, fainting spells, and even symptoms of congestive heart failure. Half of all cases of cardiomyopathy in the United States are due to alcohol consumption.
  • Weakened heart muscles: Alcohol is naturally toxic to certain processes in cardiac cells, which means that excess use can hamper the reparation of these important cells. Over time, this may mean that the heart’s muscles aren’t physically able to pump as much blood.
  • Stroke: A stroke is commonly caused by a blot clot lodging in the body and cutting off blood flow to the brain. The heavy consumption of alcohol is tied very closely to cardiomyopathy and atrial fibrillation, both of which are highly associated with the formation of blood clots. An increased risk of clots means that the risk of stroke is highly accelerated.

The risks for each type of heart problem are vastly different, but each is drastically affected by alcohol and the amount consumed. However, it’s important to recognize that the impact of alcohol on the cardiovascular system is not solely determined by the amount and regularity of consumption.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Damage sustained in the body is dependent on how much alcohol one consumes, and over what amount of time. But even binge drinking can damage the heart and affect overall health. It’s important to work with a medical professional in an alcohol treatment program to learn how much alcohol affects your body and how much your body can consume while staying healthy. The answer may be “none at all,” depending on previous damage and your history of addiction.

Can You Reverse Damage to The Cardiovascular System?

Of course, it’s most helpful to the human body if a person doesn’t use addictive substances. But stopping use and fighting addiction in a healthy, medically assisted manner is the next best thing to not becoming addicted in the first place.

However, many forms of damage can be reversible with time and complete sobriety from alcohol. Hypertension has an excellent rate of reversal given enough time avoiding alcohol and taking in medical treatment. But the person must seek to heal invest time in a healthy lifestyle and monitor factors like stress and diet to ensure proper healing.

Treatment For Alcoholism

It’s highly recommended that anyone who wants to stop drinking to not attempt to do so on their own, especially if they have a heavy drinking habit or frequently binge drink. Many potential adverse effects may happen as a result of suddenly halting drinking, and the person stopping may be uncomfortable or suffer bodily harm if not monitored for adverse effects by a medical professional.


The first stage of alcoholism treatment is detoxification, which is frequently assisted/monitored by a medical professional. The person’s body is learning how to function without alcohol, and so the body’s systems (including the cardiovascular system) are learning how to work without alcohol to compensate. This can result in effects ranging from headaches to the painful delirium tremens, which can be fatal. Medical professionals who monitor for these effects can administer medication and/or treatment to ensure the detoxifying person doesn’t suffer long-term effects.

Staying in an inpatient treatment center (or “rehab”) is a highly effective step for learning and establishing long-term sobriety. The person who wants to rehabilitate themselves steps away from their lives and attends individual therapy, and classes on addiction, and personally interrogates the reasons why they consume addictive substances to cope. They’ll develop a healthy support network through different forms of group therapy and will aim for comprehensive healing through a holistic approach.

Rather than undergoing a harsh and sudden transition back to the “real world,” most people opt for a solution where they complete an outpatient treatment program that continues their education and treatment. Patients undergoing outpatient treatment will often attend classes or individual therapy for a few hours every day. Most of their treatment programs equate to a part-time job, typically scheduled around their life obligations.

An intensive outpatient program has increased obligations, equating to about a full-time job. This option is often recommended for people with a more severe addiction who may need additional medical supervision for a longer period of their treatment.

After outpatient treatment, many people don’t feel ready to return to normal life. They may feel like they need practice with coping skills, or that they want additional support before re-entering their social circles. For these people, sober living is a helpful “middle step” between treatment and fully re-entering the world. These full-time living arrangements allow the person to be fully surrounded by others seeking to build lives of full sobriety. There are often many resources available to help support this daily, such as group therapy or information on 12-step programs.

Protect Your Health: Recovery is Possible At Santa Barbara Recovery

Addiction can wreak havoc on the body and mind. If your body isn’t at its best, you can’t show up for your life and relationships. This can feed into the destructive cycles of addiction and make it hard to seek help.

At Santa Barbara Recovery, we’re here to help and support you at every stage of recovery. We assist in safe detox and then help you sustain results through holistic healing. Sober living helps you stay accountable as you help build a new life of possibility. Reach out to us and start your journey of recovery. It’s never too late!

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